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Something is shifting in architecture’s culture

Emily Booth

AJ100 data allows us to monitor architecture’s progress towards becoming a more diverse profession, writes Emily Booth

When the AJ met with David Adjaye, this year’s worthy recipient of the AJ100 Contribution to the Profession award, we were struck by his rallying call for diversity in architecture. ‘Architecture can be much more precise, less of a blunt instrument, if it responds to the diversity of our communities and the people we serve,’ he said.

There is much to be said for increasing diversity in the profession and focusing on community. On the sobering anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, it is an approach that resonates strongly.

There is also much to be said for precision. So specific in plans and details, architects can come unstuck when it comes to the big, vague challenges now facing them. Chief of these, according to the findings of the annual AJ100 survey, is Brexit. It is a critical concern facing the biggest practices, particularly with regard to the recruitment of skilled staff.

Sixty per cent of AJ100 practices feel Brexit will have a negative impact on their ability to hire EU citizens in the short term, with more than half anticipating that Brexit will continue to make it harder to recruit EU citizens in the long term. 

For the first time in four years, the survey shows, the number of architects working for the UK’s largest firms has dropped. What is more, aggregate architecture fee income is down by 5 per cent year-on-year. This year’s figures offer clear evidence about how the profession has contracted in the face of sector-wide disquiet.

Happily, the survey also provides data showing that diversity numbers are a little improved. Twelve per cent of architects employed in AJ100 practices in the UK are from a BAME background (up from 10 per cent last year). Thirty-three per cent of architects are female (up from 32 per cent last year). Hopefully, as RIBA director of practice Lucy Carmichael says: ‘Something is shifting in the culture.’

The AJ100 survey – analysed by Bruce Tether, a professor of management at the Alliance Manchester Business School – offers annual, detailed findings about the realities of running the biggest practices in architecture. The industry needs to find a stronger voice to speak up about these challenges, particularly Brexit, and how it might go about creating a better business culture. Architecture can be more precise, and less of a blunt instrument, if the profession works together to benefit all our communities.

Image by Jim Stephenson

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